Experts warn against substance abuse during the holidays

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Thanksgiving Eve is one of the most popular drinking nights of the year due to many people not having work on Thanksgiving and college students being home for the holidays.

However, senior citizens and the elderly make up a startling percentage of people struggling with drinking and substance abuse.

Brenda Illif, executive director of Hazelden, a Naples-based addiction treatment center, said substance abuse among people over the age of 50 is common.

“That one or two drinks that we had our whole life with no problem or didn’t really have a problem — all of a sudden they might be adding an anxiety pill or a sleeping pill,” Illif said.

Illif added that while there are many signs, they are sometimes difficult to spot because those signs often mimic medical concerns.

“Someone may be slurring words, but that could be because of their pills or their drinking or it could be because they had a stroke,” she said. “Someone may be a little bit shaky, that could be because of chemicals or it could be because of another diagnoses.”

Nationally, more adults tend to struggle with alcoholism. But as people age, they may also have trouble sleeping, have more anxiety or experience pain.

Therefore, they have access to prescription medications as well.

“As human beings, we want to be comfortable and we if get comfort out of that pain pill or that anxiety pill or that alcohol…people may seek help in that so some if it might be about self medicating,” Illif said.

Illif explained part of the solution is breaking the stigma.

“Just because Grandma’s 80, doesn’t mean Grandma may not have a problem with pills and/or alcohol,” she said, adding that recovery rates tend to be higher among older adults.

The Surgeon General issued a report last week saying addiction is a chronic illness that can be treated.

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